Sunday, May 27, 2018
Books

What's Michael Lisicky reading?

Nightstand

Michael Lisicky

Lisicky, an oboist with the Baltimore Symphony, has a peculiar hobby: studying the history of department stores. Out of his fascination with the retail giants have come several books: Wanamaker's: Meet Me at the Eagle, Gimbels Has It!, Hutzler's: Where Baltimore Shops and Woodward & Lothrop: A Store Worthy of the Nation's Capital. Last month, Lisicky released Remembering Maas Brothers, about the Florida chain. Part of the Images of America series, the book has a foreword written by Sandy Freedman, former mayor of Tampa, whose family ran a jewelry business next to the flagship Tampa store.

Lisicky's reporting for the book started years ago when his parents owned a home in Spring Hill. "My mother was born in 1921 and grew up in the age when department stores were the end-all and, of course, in Tampa Bay, Maas Brothers was king,'' he recalled. "Since I had this passion for wanting to see Maas Brothers, when I'd visit, I'd truck her around, even as far as St. Pete.''

The author lives in Baltimore with his wife, Sandy, a fellow oboist, and their daughter, Jordan, and yes, that is Jordan as in the founder of Jordan Marsh. The name came about because Lisicky attended the New England Conservatory in Boston. "(Eben) Jordan was a big benefactor of the school, and we thought Jordan was a great name.''

What's on your nightstand?

It makes me sad because my favorite books are all morbid. They all seem to have a theme about a little bit of decline. My favorite book of late is Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff. Here is a journalist who worked for the New York Times and did stuff for the L.A. Times and wanted to go home and got a job as an investigative journalist for the Detroit News. Just (reading) what he sees and what he experiences of society, you don't know whether to laugh or cry. It's a man who is passionate about his hometown but frustrated and always looking for hope.

What does he want to happen in Detroit?

I don't think he knows. I think what he wants is the only realistic thing, little bits of positive or kindness from all constituencies. It's just this massive city that needs massive help. People are working on desperation. I don't think he knows what to do. It eats him alive.

The next one is Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town by Deborah Rudacille. It's on Bethlehem Steel. One thing that really gets to you is how asbestos was a real factor. It gets into their work. Little did they know it was poisoning them, and they had to turn the other cheek because it was their livelihood.

I'm also reading Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City by Howard Gillette Jr. The book was written in 2006 and much has happened since then. I grew up spitting distance to Camden, close enough to care about it. As a little kid, I wondered what was going to happen to it. Detroit is an amazing archaeological place that really has culture and wonderful buildings that are hoping for renewal, and I love Bethlehem Steel, a place my grandfather worked. With Camden, I'm fascinated in different ways. This book kind of outlines the history and how it became so successful and then what happens when industry closes. We see the desperation of trying to keep it intact. Actually, maybe that's why I like department stores. Unfortunately you have a finite ending, but people still celebrate them.

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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